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August 17, 2009
Volume 87, Number 33
p. 56

Pocket Protector Professor

Serious hobby: Pojman can’t stop collecting pocket protectors. Michael Luger (left photo), courtesy of John Pojman (Both right)
Serious hobby: Pojman can't stop collecting pocket protectors.
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Many a great idea has come out of the ACS national meetings. For chemist John A. Pojman Sr., one of these inspirational moments came during the 2000 national meeting in San Francisco when he happened across a pocket protector at the ACS store.

That purchase would soon catalyze an avid PURSUIT OF POCKET PROTECTORS.

“Every one is precious,” says the Louisiana State University professor of chemistry, who has amassed nearly 900 pocket protectors, which he proudly displays on his “webseum” at www.pocketprotectors.info.

Some days Pojman can be spotted in his lab wearing his “Nerd Pride” pocket protector. Other days perhaps his “Little Debbie” or “DuPont New Car Wax” protector will strike his fancy. As long as he’s wearing a shirt with a pocket, he says, he’ll have on a pocket protector.

The pocket protector usually conjures images of a nerdy scientist or engineer in a short-sleeved white shirt, taped-together glasses, and high-water pants. But Pojman says the younger generation have never seen a pocket protector, and “they think they’re kind of novel.”

So what exactly does the pocket protector do? It used to protect shirts from leaky pens and pencil smudges, Pojman says. But nowadays they simply “enhance the outfit,” he adds.

There are differing accounts on the Web regarding the origins of the pocket protector, and Pojman himself has been digging into the early days of this accessory. Visitors to Pojman’s webseum will find a 1903 patent for an improvement on the pocket protector by inventor Himan C. Dexter. Another advance came in 1947, when inventor Hurley Smith designed the front flap.

Older pocket protectors were made of cellulose acetate, according to Pojman, and modern pocket protectors are generally made of plasticized polyvinyl chloride. Pojman has one made out of alligator skin and another he designed that’s made out of carp leather.

The Internet has made the acquisition of pocket protectors almost effortless. Pojman occasionally receives donations from people who find old pocket protectors while cleaning out their house. He says chemical companies often used to give away pocket protectors stamped with a safety reminder. He has one from Shell, for example, that says, “Make Safety Mean More in ’84.”

When Pojman’s collection reached the 500 mark, his wife asked, “Isn’t 500 enough?” to which Pojman replied, “That’s not the attitude that got us to the moon.”

His collection was nearly destroyed in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina flooded his house in New Orleans. “I lost all of my possessions, but my pocket protector collection was saved,” he says. It helped that they are waterproof.

He takes the utmost care of his collection, keeping it in an air-conditioned room. He’s even refurbished a few of the tattered ones.

Despite his own enthusiasm for pocket protectors, Pojman has never coerced his students into wearing them. But he does remind them that their lab coats have nifty front pockets that provide the perfect opportunity to wear one. Alas, he’s only seen his students wear pocket protectors on Halloween—when they want to dress up as nerds.

Pojman continues to fight the stereotype. “People shouldn’t be ashamed to be a chemist,” he says. “They should be very proud and let everybody know.”

He says he has no plans to cap off his collection. “I’ve seen online, one guy has over 10,000 snow globes,” he says. “How can I stop at 900 pocket protectors when he has 10,000 snow globes? I’m afraid there’s someone out there who has more than 900 pocket protectors, and they’re going to sneak up on me, so I have to keep going.”

Linda Wang wrote this week's column. Please send comments and suggestions to newscripts@acs.org.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
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